“ Address: 110 Church Street / Brighton / East Sussex / BN1 1UD / Tel: 07796 001927 „
Flying in the face of the notion that Japanese food is all raw fish and high prices, Pompoko is perhaps my favourite Brighton restaurant, in a city that's bursting with wonderful places to eat. Squeezed into two compact floors several minutes' walk from the Royal Pavillion, the place turns out quick, delicious and affordable Japanese dishes to an adoring and appreciative crowd.
The majority of dishes are noodle- or rice-based, with a variety of soups and dumplings, plus a few other delicacies - the edamame is fantastic, and the gyoza portions are small but wonderful. There are a few tables downstairs with a larger seating area upstairs, and while it's a small restaurant that does its best to cater to its popularity, the atmosphere's a congenial, bubbly one that's enjoyable rather than suffocating. With mains at around £4-5 (and enormously filling!) and smaller dishes £2-3, you can eat your fill and enjoy a nice variety of Pompoko's fantastic food for little more than a tenner.
It's well worth getting one of the noodle/rice dishes, which are available with beef, chicken or tofu - all of which are excellent - alongside a soup (the miso's great) and one or two smaller dishes. Drinks tend to be one of the weaker areas of the restaurant - it's largely fizzy drinks, but the green tea's decent and cheap.
The staff are unfailing bright and cheerful, and they're always happy to cater to dietary requirements or special requests. A takeaway service is available, although it needs to be picked up in person. With quick turnover of diners and few tables, it's not possible to book - however, I've never waited long for a table.
Pompoko's perhaps not perfect - its size and the speed of service (which is a good thing, really - prompt, friendly and reliable) means it's probably better for a lunch than a lengthy dinner. A larger restaurant would be nice, although perhaps the welcoming, cosy atmosphere and low prices would dissipate with a move. Besides, there are plenty of other options for dinner - with two other Japanese restaurants nearby - and Pompoko caters to a welcome niche at present. Long may it continue.
* Incidentally, the restaurant's named after the racoon characters from the 1994 Studio Ghibli film, celebrated for their environmental awareness and extremely large testicles. So there you are.